AI and the future of work: becoming cyborgs!

Sometimes feel like a cyborg at work? Wait until you hear about the AI-human hybrid workforce! Read below to find out more.

Factory robotics

“Mum, when I grow up, I want to be a police officer…no, a soccer player…no, a scientist!”

“Ok darling, that sounds great! But how about becoming a cyborg?”

The AI-human hybrid workforce

As intelligent machines become increasingly common and powerful things are going to change, especially for those of us in the workforce. To prepare ourselves for the future, we need to learn how to work together with these machines. How can we get the best out of machines, and work together as a seamless team? Or, in a sense, how can we become cyborgs?

It’s not just down to the individual to figure out how to transform into an AI-human hybrid. Organizations need to create environments that foster these alliances. So, if your position involves creating jobs, or hiring and managing people, this blog post is for you.

Here, I propose some crucial questions that you should ask in order to future-proof your workplace.

Engineer using AR Hololens


Ensuring that work remains meaningful

When it comes to discussing AI and the future of work we exhale in relief when someone says machines will have a hard time replacing us. This statement is backed by the argument that most AI systems are ‘narrow’. This is when AI systems only do one thing but do it really well, for example, predicting what you want to watch on Netflix. If you ask the same system to make you a cup of coffee or drive your car, you’re likely to be disappointed. Similarly, when it comes to work the expectation is that AI can take over certain tasks, but perhaps not entire multidisciplinary roles.

But what happens when the AI system can perform the most significant tasks that a job entails? In our report about creative machines, we looked at how AI can impact work life. One interesting example we found came from the fashion industry, where a company had implemented two AI systems to produce novel designs. Together, the machines did all work, from trend scouting to creating new designs, and predicting how well they would sell. The first human intervention didn’t occur until the designs were sent to production. In short, the human’s role was to surveil the system.

The AI proved to be successful, but how much fun did the human overseer really have? Especially if they were an educated designer capable of creating new designs by themselves...

For future jobs, we need to learn how the human’s role can evolve beyond supervisor, and how we can we draw on human strengths to improve AI systems. Most importantly, we need to ensure that work conducted alongside AI is still perceived as meaningful.

If you don’t figure this out, you’re unlikely to attract the most talented people in the future.

Providing learning opportunities

Let’s say you find a way to make working with a machine both meaningful and attractive. How do you make sure your team becomes good at it?

Research published earlier this year coined the term ‘Shadow Learning’. As explained in the Harvard Business Review article titled ‘Learning to work with intelligent machines’, the researcher studied the challenges new surgeons faced when learning robotic surgery skills. Previously, they learned how to perform surgery by working alongside expert surgeons, but now they’re forced to watch over the surgeon’s shoulder as, thanks to robotics, individuals can handle entire surgeries with one pair of hands – resulting in fewer hands-on learning opportunities for the student.

The term, however, does not mean that you learn by shadowing someone. The phrase refers to students who gained experience with robotic tools by taking it upon themselves to acquire new skills outside of the curriculum. Some students, for instance, used simulation tools or watched videos of robotic surgery on YouTube (what can’t you learn from YouTube?). This, however, often forced the students to skip other crucial parts of the course.

For creating the AI-human workforce of the future we need to ensure that there are enough learning opportunities. So, how do you foster continuous learning and create chances for machine-human teams to excel?

See this as an opportunity. When trying to attract future star employees, offering them a chance for professional development and exposure to new technologies will give you a competitive edge against other employers.

Finding the sweet spot of trust

We often say that ensuring trust in the machines is crucial. However, overreliance on AI systems could become an issue, especially during decision-making. If you always have an intelligent assistant aiding you it could get harder to ignore its advice. The smarter it gets, the harder it would be to argue against it. It may even lead to increased mental obesity, where humans just ask the AI and mindlessly follow its instructions. I have also previously written about this in another post about mental obesity and AI. In another post, my colleague also writes about the effects of overdependence on technology where he notes the typically western habit of taking the escalators rather than the stairs, it’s just so easy to let the machine do the work.

Overreliance on AI systems could also lead to bolder decisions, as we saw in one of our public safety studies. This insight later turned into another hot consumer trend, as our researched showed that people who perceive their smartphone as a safety device knowingly take greater risks when they have their smartphone with them. Translating this into an organizational setting, it’s fair to raise the question: will people be more open to taking risks if they believe a system will always be there to aid them? Is it possible that they’ll also reflect less on the consequences of AI-guided decisions?

We should be augmented by the machines that we work with, not pacified. But how can you support critical thinking and autonomy at work when employees are aided by intelligent machines?

Finding the sweet spot of trust and reliance in the AI-Human collaboration you will not only inspire and empower your employees to take informed decisions, you will probably also stimulate people to generate more novel ideas.

Women programming robotic arm


The future will be determined by humans

If we look beyond the current discussion of AI and the future of work –  which usually revolves around the number of jobs that will be impacted by AI – we can focus on how to create inspiring new ways to work with machines.

To get there, we need to figure out how to foster new alliances and bring out the best in both AI and humans.

This is a great opportunity. Just imagine what you can do when your employees are motivated, well trained and empowered. Imagine having Cyborgs!

Read more

Visit our IndustryLab and ConsumerLab pages to read more about how technology will impact our lives in the coming years.

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